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Teacher Feature

Direction Perfection


Students will use a compass to locate cardinal and ordinal directions.  They will also describe and complete a "journey" using the compass, create a scale map, and relate this experience to the Expedition of Lewis and Clark.


Explain to students that Lewis and Clark were responsible for mapping all of the territory they traveled and that these maps needed to be accurate so that Americans in the eastern United States could comprehend the territory that had been added through the Louisiana Purchase.

Explain to the students that there are two sets of directions.  The most familiar directions-north, south, east, and west-are called cardinal directions.  There is another set of directions in between the cardinal directions.  These are called ordinal directions, and they are northeast, northwest, southeast, and southwest.

Divide class into small groups.  Give each group a compass, a pencil, a Which Way? handout, and one of the assignments from the Group Assignments handout.  Demonstrate how the compass works.  Explain to students that their mission is to describe how to get from Point A to Point B (as indicated on their assignment card), using only cardinal and ordinal directions.

Write the following rules on the board:

  1. If an obstacle appears on your path (i.e. a desk, a wall, etc.), you must maneuver yourselves around the obstacle using cardinal and ordinal directions.  You need not describe what the obstacle is.
  2. Your group's assignment should be kept secret from other groups.
  3. You may not use familiar landmarks as hints in your directions (i.e. "3 steps north of the chalkboard")

When groups have completed their projects, collect the assignment cards.  Ask groups to swap papers so that no group has their own project in front of them.  Select two student volunteers; one will read aloud the directions as written on the group paper.  The second will execute the directions using a compass.  When this student reaches what he/she has determined to be Point B, have the student ask the group if this is where he/she was supposed to end up.  If it is not, have the group redirect the student using cardinal and ordinal directions to the correct location.  Repeat with the projects from the rest of the groups, using different student volunteers.

Have students create a scale map based on their directions.  Explain to students that they may include symbols for landmarks on the map.  Tell students to include a compass rose, a title, and a map key.

For homework, have students summarize their experience and relate it to the experience of Lewis and Clark.


Have students pretend there is a new student in school who needs help finding his/her way around.  Each student should select a commonly traveled route (i.e. from the cafeteria to the gym) and create accurate navigational directions, using a compass.  As an assessment, have a partner try to follow each student's directions.


The project described above reflects some of the national standards of learning as defined by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), the National Council for Teachers of English (NCTE), and the International Society for Technology in Education.  These standards are listed below:

Social Studies Standards

People, Places, and Environment

Technology Standards

Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools

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